Though there have been a number of governing bodies that hand out Rookie of the Year awards throughout the history of the NFL, those handed out by the Associated Press are the ones that are officially recognized by the NFL. The Buffalo Bills have had three winners of the AP’s Rookie of the Year awards in their franchise history. These players are interesting points in time. Two of the three players won’t surprise many people who know them. The other player may come as a surprise to many. In this case, looking through past Rookie of the Year winners is a chance to reconnect with forgotten pieces of league history.
With a couple of Bills players looking to make their claim for a Rookie of the Year award in 2022, it’s a good time to revisit the players from the past who were successful in claiming theirs.
Associated Press Offensive Rookie Of The Year – 1970 (Dennis Shaw, QB #16)
Dennis Shaw started 12 of 14 games for the Bills in 1970, in which the team went just 3-8-1 (3-10-1 overall). Shaw’s offensive numbers weren’t anything to write home about, either. He managed to throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns (20 and 10, respectively) and lost a league-leading 387 yards from sacks. By most conventional measurements, a player who puts up these kinds of numbers is nowhere near in the running for a Rookie of the Year Award. But his 2,507 passing yards were good enough for the sixth-most most among quarterbacks in 1970.
It’s worth keeping in context when considering Shaw’s 1970 season just how bad the Bills were at that time. The team hadn’t had a winning season since 1966 and had gone just 4-10 the season before in 1969. O.J. Simpson played just eight games in ’70, and the two best players on the offense were Marlin Briscoe and Haven Moses. It was also customary for quarterbacks to throw a larger number of interceptions at that time because pass interference rules weren’t as offensive-friendly as they are today. But what ultimately put the rookie quarterback over the top to win the award, it seems, was his league-leading three fourth quarter comebacks.
Associated Press Defensive Rookie Of The Year – 1979 (Jim Haslett, ILB #55)
Jim Haslett made his defensive presence known in 1979, a year in which the Bills went 7-9. Haslett recorded two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a sack that year on his way to winning his Rookie of the Year award. A controversial figure today due to his admission of steroid use during his playing days, he was nonetheless a solid player at the inside linebacker position, and his rookie season stands out as one of his two best.
The highlight game of Haslett’s 1979 rookie season came in Week Four against the New England Patriots. In this game, he posted both of his interceptions and was one of the main reasons the Bills were able to pull off a 16-13 victory on the road over their division rivals. The team’s 7-9 record, though not great, was an improvement over their 5-11 record from the previous season.
Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year – 1987 (Shane Conlan, ILB #58)
Shane Conlan had an excellent rookie campaign in the strike-shortened 15-game, 1987 season. 114 combined tackles and a forced fumble were among Conlan’s numbers. That 114 combined tackles number would prove to be the second-most of his career behind only his 1991 season in which he recorded 122. His 114 tackles came in just 12 games, which he started in 1987. In the 15-game season, the Bills went 7-8, a marked improvement over their 4-12 record from the previous season.
On top of the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Conlan was also named to the All-Pro second team in 1987. His half a sack recorded that season came in Week Three against the Indianapolis Colts. This was the first Bills’ win of the season, with a final score of 27-3. Though he’s remembered most for appearing in three-straight Super Bowl losses with the team between 1990 and 1992, his rookie season was one to remember.
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